If you deep-fry just ONE THING this year….

The book:  Fried & True, by Lee Brian Schrager and Adeena Sussman (Clarkson Potter, $22.50 – here’s my complete review)

The recipe:  Keralan fried chicken – recipe actually by Atlanta chef Asha Gomez

Why I tried it: I can’t even begin to describe to you the mixed pleasure and pain of recipe-testing a fried-chicken book in the middle of summer.  I saw the picture of the chicken atop the waffles, and then I read the bold, unstinting ingredients list (one bunch of mint! one bunch of cilantro!), and I thought “Maybe this will make it all worthwhile…”

Why I loved it:  The waffles may have sold me on trying this recipe, but they weren’t the clincher when I made it. No, the clincher was two-part: 1) Boneless pieces!  It was a pain boning all that chicken, but it was totally worth it.  The marinade penetrated from both sides, and the chicken cooked up fast & juicy, and you could eat it with a knife and fork.  2) Cilantro-mint flavor + crisp skin crust +  spicy maple syrup!  This is what a chef would call a nice move, and what I would call a close-your-eyes-and-thank-your-god-you’re-alive-to-taste-this moment.

Which is why, having eaten more fried chicken that any sane person would want to over the summer, I made it again for my birthday at the end of August, and made my friends eat it with me.  I skipped the waffles, thereby leaving more room for chicken.

Estimated preparation time: 24 hour marinade, followed by about 1 hour prep & fry.  Add a half hour if you’re boning the chicken yourself, and you’re pretty fast at it.  (And add more time yet if you’re making your own waffles to go with it.)

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Photo: Evan Sung

Keralan Fried Chicken and Spicy Maple Syrup (plus Insert Your Favorite Waffle Here)

This recipe originally included these cardamom waffles – a great idea, but I found the waffle recipe a little lackluster for the effort. You could use your own favorite waffle, or a frozen Eggo, or no waffle at all. But even if you do without the waffle, don’t skip the spicy maple syrup, because it’s incredible on that chicken skin.  Oh – be sure to use skin-on boneless.  The skin is important, and so is the lack of bone.

Serves 8
For the spicy maple syrup:
2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds, coarsely ground
2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds, coarsely ground
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups maple syrup

For the chicken:
2 cups buttermilk
10 garlic cloves
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
6 whole serrano (or 3 large jalapeño) peppers, seeded if desired
Bunch of fresh cilantro
Bunch of fresh mint
2 tablespoons kosher salt
8 boneless, skin-on chicken thighs (about 3 pounds)
Vegetable oil, for frying
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 stems fresh curry leaves
2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

1) Marinate the chicken: In a blender, purée the buttermilk, garlic, ginger, peppers, cilantro, mint, and salt until smooth. Place the chicken in a large glass dish or bowl, pour the buttermilk purée over the chicken, toss to coat, and marinate for 24 hours.

2) Make the syrup: Toast the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and red pepper flakes in a dry, hot medium skillet until fragrant and the seeds begin to pop, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk the toasted spices into the maple syrup and let the syrup infuse at room temperature for 24 hours.

3) Fry the chicken: Fill a large (12-inch) cast-iron skillet with 1⁄3 inch oil and gently heat to 300°F. Set a wire rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet and set aside. While the oil is heating, remove the chicken from the buttermilk purée, gently shake off excess, and dredge each piece in flour. Place the chicken in the skillet, skin side down; the oil should come halfway up the pan. Cook the chicken until it turns golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes per side. Drain the chicken on the rack and drizzle with the melted coconut oil. While the chicken is draining, crisp the curry leaves by frying in the oil until crisp, 10 to 15 seconds.

4) Serve the chicken on top of the waffles and drizzle with the spiced syrup. Garnish with the fried curry leaves.

Reprinted from Fried & True by Lee Schrager with Adeena Sussman. Copyright (c) 2014 by Lee Schrager. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, a division of Random House, LLC.